Julie Meddows initially heard about the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles (Gazelles Rally) when she saw a presentation from Emily Miller in 2011 at an event. Around the same time, Rachelle Croft heard about the adventure through her husband (Clay Croft from Expedition Overland). Both ladies thought it was a neat idea, but never imagined they could actually compete.
It wasn’t until the 2011 SEMA show in Las Vegas, where Julie & Rachelle met for the first time, that this crazy idea was formed. After chatting at the show and exchanging numbers, the two career oriented moms started planning what would eventually become Team X Elles.
So how to you prepare for a rally on another continent in just 4 months, when you have no racing experience?
Once Julie and Rachelle decided X Elles was going to happen, they did whatever they needed to in order to compete in the rally. Logistics, preparation, and training all had to be dealt with. Sponsors, travel, timing, and of course family and careers had to be taken care of as well. These ladies MADE the rally happen while inspiring many girls, women, and moms to do the crazy thing.
So, this rally is a fun romp through the desert in a fully supported SUV, right? Actually, no. The Rallye Aicha des Gazelles is one of the toughest competitions on the planet. What’s more: men are not allowed to compete. Teams must consist of two (sometimes three) women, spending nine days in the desert. But it’s much more serious than that.
With no GPS, no electronics, and no points of reference, teams must find their way across the Moroccan desert with only a compass and 50-year-old topographic maps. The teams are allowed to carry spare parts and recovery gear, but support trucks and mechanics are not permitted on the course. Teams must be completely self sufficient for the 10-15 hours of driving and navigating each day.
This is not a race, it’s a rally, and unlike most rallies: time doesn’t matter. This rally is all about distance. The goal is simple: the team with the least number of kilometers wins. Teams make choices while navigating from checkpoint to checkpoint: Go over the mountain or around it? Turn around or hope that their going in the right direction? Missing a checkpoint results in penalty KMs added to your total. The name of the game is conserving your distance. Many teams don’t actually drive to the checkpoint, instead choosing to save their KMs and running the last few hundred meters to the checkpoint.
Their run down of the pace at which Rachelle & Julie prepared for the rally had my head swirling during our interview. I can’t imagine prepping a vehicle, taking care of the long list of arrangements and duties that must be done to compete on another continent, all while managing careers and families. This would be a difficult task for the most experienced teams, let alone two adventurous ladies that want to do the crazy thing.
In order to get the MaxTrax FJ Cruiser to the rally in Morocco, Team X Elles had to prep the truck, get it to New Jersey, and ship it to Paris through Belgium. The team then met the truck in Paris for the tech inspection, a very stressful time, before driving it to Morocco through Spain (via a 3 day ferry ride). That is a ton of time, money, and effort before the rally even started!
Luckily the Rallye (which began in 1990) has their system down. Each day they pick up and move an entire tent city (bivouac) from one location to the next, so the teams have a place to recover, eat, and sleep each night. Fuel and mechanics are provided (that is, they’re included in the $18,000 entry fee), but spare parts are not. Teams also must tell the mechanic what is wrong with the truck so it can be fixed overnight.
When I sat down with Rachelle & Julie at the Overland Expo, one thing I really wanted to know was what experiences during the rally changed their outlook. One on the top of the list for both ladies was the sense of accomplishment. “We can do this” and “an adventure life after having children” were common themes. Of course there were challenges: Despite the presence of another US based team, the X Elles were basically on their own. They knew a little French, but clearly wished they knew more. They were lost for most of the first day of the rally, thankfully it was a practice day, but being lost in the desert at night with no GPS is not a good feeling.
There were so many successes though. Gazelle teams really do work together despite their intense competitive nature. The fridge in the back of the FJ carrying cold water was very popular with many other teams. MaxTrax were unheard of before Team X Elles arrived and were literally the only recovery device they needed. The only FJ Cruiser in the race also made the team very popular among the race officials and other teams.
After nine days in the desert (and overnight legs), Team X Elles finished their first Rallye. While they didn’t finish first (only .6km separated first and second place), they did finish 24h among first timers and 80th overall. Out of 150+ rally teams, that’s a success in anyone’s book.
For the 2013 Rallye, Team X Elles will be adding another vehicle and two new members. Angie Williams is a long time off road enthusiast and has been driving our FJ Cruiser for nearly five years. Angie will be driving the MaxTrax FJ Cruiser, with Julie Meddows as the navigator. Hailey Morrison is Expedition Overland's intern from New Zealand, and though she works mainly on the production and marking side of the show, she's an avid petrol head and studies at maps in her spare time. Hailey will be the navigator for the second truck with team mate Rachelle doing the driving.
Team X Elles continues their original motto: “Do the crazy thing!”. This drives them into the unknown, to discover more, to survive, to accomplish the unthinkable. As women, moms, students, and career oriented ladies, the X Elles yearn for adventure.
Team X Elles is headed back to Morocco.
Back to adventure.
Doing the crazy thing . . . Together.
Are you interested in sponsoring the X Elles for the 2013 Rallye? You can visit www.teamxelles.com and donate via Paypal. Any amount is greatly appreciated and you’ll be listed on the Team X Elles website as a sponsor! Details on corporate sponsorship can be found in the 2013 Sponosorship Packet!
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